Home to five of America’s most beautiful national parks, Utah is a natural wonderland for adults and kids alike. From mountains and rivers to canyons, sand dunes, and caves, there’s plenty to explore and to do.
With only a week to spare for a family trip, we decided to keep it simple and focus on Zion National Park, and the towns of Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona. Read on to see how we spent our action-packed week of exploring and adventure travelling as a family.
In This Post
- Why Visit Utah for a Family Trip?
- Logistics for a Family Trip to Utah
- Zion National Park
- Kanab, Utah
- Page, Arizona
Why Visit Utah for a Family Trip?
When I first told people we were going to Utah, it certainly raised a few eyebrows. However, Utah is second only to Alaska and California in terms of the number of national parks within its borders, and this speaks well to its stunning natural landscapes and ample travel opportunities.
In fact, I only stumbled on the idea of Utah after coming across a photo of Antelope Canyon in Arizona. I was blown away by its unique formations, and this led me down the rabbit hole of seeing what else was in the area. One of the places I discovered in my searches was Kanab, Utah.
Kanab is a small city in Utah, with several attractions of its own, but it’s also conveniently situated between several national parks, making it a great base when visiting.
Kanab has Zion National Park to the east, Bryce National Park to the north, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the south, and Canyonlands and Arches National Parks to the west.
Unfortunately, the last two parks are quite a bit further from Kanab than the rest, so we didn’t get a chance to visit them on this trip.
Having travelled abroad several times this past year to Bali, Japan, Iceland, and Crete, I admit that part of the appeal of Utah was its proximity to home, being less than a five-hour flight away and a two-hour time difference from our home in Toronto.
Also, the kids happened to have a four-day weekend due to a couple of professional development days at school, so we decided to take advantage and make a weeklong trip out of it.
Logistics for a Family Trip to Utah
Based on our experience, here are some tips and tricks to consider when booking a family trip to Utah.
Best Times to Visit Utah
Utah has a dry, desert climate for most of the year, with temperatures peaking above 30 degrees Celsius in July, so you’ll want to avoid visiting during the summer months. The best time to go is late spring or early fall, when daytime temperatures still reach the mid 20s and the evening lows don’t typically dip down to the single digits yet.
The crowds will also be at a more comfortable level during these shoulder seasons.
You may also want to consider visiting when one of your children is in Grade 4. EveryKidOutdoors is a program funded by the US federal government that allows Grade 4 students and their immediate families to visit all national parks, lands, and waters for free for the duration of that year from September to the following August.
The program requires entering a zip code to get the paper pass, but I used our hotel’s and it worked just fine.
After that, you simply present the paper pass at the ticketing booth of the national land you are visiting. You may also find that some locations will swap out the paper pass for a plastic one.
If you don’t have a fourth-grader in your family and plan on visiting multiple national parks, consider getting a National Park Pass instead. The pass costs just $80 (USD), and lasts for one year.
Getting to Utah
To get to Utah, you’ll have to fly into either Las Vegas (LAS) or Salt Lake City (SLC), which are located about two and a half hours or four and a half hours, respectively, from Zion National Park.
There’s a smaller regional airport, St. George (SGU), that’s only an hour’s drive away, but getting there would require at least one connection if you’re flying from Canada.
Booking just over a month out, fares weren’t the greatest, so we opted to book our flight to Las Vegas with Air Canada. We booked our flights through Aeroplan for a total of 124,000 points and $708 (CAD) in taxes and fees for the round-trip in economy class for our family of five.
It wasn’t my greatest redemption, but it was better than the cash alternative at the time.
If you plan ahead, flights can be as low as $200 (CAD) round-trip on an ultra-low-cost carrier like Flair Airlines.
Once you arrive, you’ll need to rent a car to get around. We rented from Hertz because of our President’s Circle status (acquired through status matching) and the Ultimate Choice feature at Las Vegas, which allowed us to pick the vehicle of our choice.
You’ll need to remember to bring a car seat for your young children, as both Utah and Arizona law require them until the age of eight. In Arizona, car seats are required until the child is at least four feet, nine inches tall.
From our arrival in Las Vegas, we drove up to Zion National Park and headed eastwards to Kanab, Utah, and then onwards to Page, Arizona. From there, we drove all the way back to Las Vegas.
Another option was not to drive back the way we came, but to rather go onwards to Phoenix and fly home from there instead. In our case, the one-way cost would have made our car rental more expensive than the return trip rental, which is why we decided to go this way.
Preparing for the Trip
Packing and preparing for this trip was a bit different than our other trips. We knew we’d be doing lots of hiking (some of it in water), kayaking, and walking on sand dunes.
Here’s a list of things I think are essential to bring and to do before your departure if you’re considering a similar itinerary for a family trip to this area:
- Hiking shoes, as the extra grip on these shoes is great for the rocky and sandy terrain
- Refillable water bottles, to stay hydrated during the daytime hours when it can be quite warm
- Clothes that can get dirty, as most of the terrain is made up of red-coloured sand
- Dry packs (clear-coloured if you’re planning to hit up Antelope Canyon)
- Waterproof bibs, suits, or wetsuits, if you’re planning to hike the Narrows at Zion (especially for kids six and under, as you won’t be able to find rentals for the young ones)
Before leaving, I’d also suggest doing the following to make sure you’re well-prepared:
- Download any maps or information you may want to have handy, as cellular data is spotty in many areas within the national parks and sometimes even on the drive between them.
- Download the NPS App. This is the official free app for the National Park Service, which contains all the information you need when visiting the parks. You can also download the content for entire parks for offline use.
- One night in St. George to get settled in after a late arrival in Las Vegas
- Two nights around Zion National Park
- Three nights in Kanab, Utah
- One night in Page, Arizona
Zion National Park
Zion National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is renowned for its towering red rock formations, dramatic sandstone cliffs, deep canyons, and the narrow, winding gorge of the Virgin River.
Where to Stay
There are a plethora of different and fun accommodation options around Zion National Park. You can choose from wagons, teepees, Airstreams, glamping, and vacation rentals, depending on what you’re looking for.
Most of these are located a little further out from Zion, putting you about a 15–20 minute drive away from the Zion Canyon Visitor Centre.
If you can’t find parking in the park’s parking lot, there’s street parking that ranges from $12–20 (USD) per day. Unless you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, finding a spot in the park’s lot will be tough.
If you prefer the convenience of walking or taking the bus from your accommodation to Zion National Park, then look into traditional hotels in the Springdale area. There are plenty of hotel options, some standalone ones, and others that are part of hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, IHG, and Best Western.
Most of the hotels are located within a 10–45-minute walk from the park, and offer parking for a nominal fee, saving you the hassle of having to find public parking.
If the walk is too far from your hotel, then just hop on the town’s free shuttle bus that runs every 10–15 minutes between Zion Canyon Visitor Centre and several pick-up locations within Springdale.
For our two nights in the Zion area, we spent the first one at Under Canvas Zion for a glamping experience, where I redeemed the $200 travel credit from my American Express Platinum Card to offset the cost of the stay.
For the second night, we stayed at the Cliffrose Springdale, Curio Collection by Hilton, where I made us of an Amex US Amex Offer for a $60 (USD) statement credit after spending $300 (USD) at a Curio property.
Although we enjoyed the convenience that the Cliffrose offered, being only a 10-minute walk from the park entrance, the glamping at Under Canvas and roasting marshmallows surrounded by the beauty of Zion is a special experience, despite being a 35-minute drive from the visitor centre.
Ultimately, both accommodations were fabulous and offered very different experiences. I’ll write a comparison of the two in the near future.
Other fun options I considered were Zion White Bison Resort, which offers luxury teepees and covered wagon suites, as well as the chance to see white bison that live on the property, and Autocamp Zion, which offers Airstream suites.
If you want to stay within Zion National Park itself and have the chance to experience it without the crowds in the early mornings and late evenings, consider staying at the Zion National Park Lodge, the only in-park lodging option.
There are many trails in Zion National Park, but not all of them are kid friendly. In particular, Angel’s Landing and Observation Point are frankly dangerous unless you’re travelling with older teenagers.
Getting from the Visitor Centre to the trailheads is easy with in-park shuttle service which runs every 5–15 minutes. The line-ups from the Visitor Centre can be long if you arrive later than 9:30am. That being said, when we hit the trails on the first day at 2pm, there was no line-up.
Pay attention to the time the last bus leaves, and be sure to catch one earlier. They don’t operate any more buses after the last bus, even if there are more people waiting. This is especially important if you’ll be leaving from the last bus stop (Stop 9) since the bus is often full by then; it’s definitely better to leave a bit earlier than later.
Here are some kid-friendly trails I’d recommend, presented in increasing levels of difficulty:
Pa’rus Trail. This is one of the easiest trails in the park. It is level, paved, and only 2.75km one-way. It provides views of the Virgin River and the cliffs of Zion along the way.
The scenery is not as dramatic as on other trails, but it is great for strollers and bicycles, and for walking with pets. You can start the hike from the Visitor Centre and, once you’re finished, hop on the park shuttle at the end of the trail to take you back (Stop 3).
The Watchman. We didn’t hike this trail, but we were told it’s also a relatively easy one, coming in at under 5km with a slight climb to 300 feet above the canyon for a great viewpoint. Take note that there are some open cliff edges, so be careful with the kids in these areas.
Emerald Pools. Traditionally, this was an easy 3.5km hike to the lower pool and back. However, the bridge to access the trailhead (Stop 5) has been closed since June 2023, so accessing the pools requires going out and back on the longer Kayenta Trail (Stop 6) for a total of over 6km if you’re hitting the upper, middle, and lower pools.
The trail does have great viewpoints along the way, but it’s more strenuous and has some exposed areas that could be dangerous for younger kids. The climb from the middle to the upper pool is a rather difficult one and can be skipped if the kids have had enough.
Zion Narrows Trail. This was by far my kids’ favourite trail. There are two ways to hike it, from bottom-up or top-down. Top-down requires a permit. Bottom-up doesn’t, and this is the way most people do it, and it’s the easier of the two ways.
To hike this trail, you’ll take the shuttle for 40 minutes, all the way to Stop 9, at the end of Zion. You’ll then walk along the easy 1.6km Riverside Walk Trail that’s flat and paved. At the end of this trail is the beginning of the Narrows, which goes along and through the Virgin River.
The entire trail is 8km one way; however, most people just hike whatever they’re comfortable with and then head back.
The depth of the river varies depending on the year, but autumn is the most favourable time for finding the lower water levels that make it more manageable for kids.
Most of the time the water didn’t go past our knees, but there’s one particular small area where it went almost up to my chest.
The water is also very cold. It was 59 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 degrees Celsius, when we visited in October in the mid-afternoon. It’ll be even colder in the mornings.
You can rent walking sticks, boots, neoprene socks, and waterproof bibs and suits from Zion Outfitters, located just outside the south entrance to Zion National Park. Keep in mind that their smallest suits fit about an eight- or nine-year-old, and the smallest boot size they have is size 11.
We ended up buying a wetsuit for our youngest from Amazon to keep her warm. In fact, I would even recommend wearing a wetsuit underneath the waterproof suit to add another level of warmth.
We went in the mid-afternoon when the crowds were thinner, but the waters were still cold. You’ll also want to be sure to bring water and snacks to refuel along the way.
Kanab is a great place to stay for a few nights. It is conveniently located between several attractions and also offers a variety of accommodation options that won’t break the bank.
Where to Stay in Kanab
We stayed two nights at Timber & Tin Vacation Rental Resort. They have one- and two-bedroom units that are spacious and clean and can accommodate four to seven people.
The units are equipped with a family room, dining set, full kitchen, in-unit washer and dryer, and a rooftop fire pit, and prices start from $259 (USD) per night.
The resort also has a large pool, hot tub, outdoor picnic table, and a barn with various games and a home theatre set up.
There are several places close by to order food from, or if you wish to cook a meal, the grocery store is only a five-minute walk away.
Our kitchen had marshmallow roasting sticks, so we ended off each night with s’mores on our own rooftop patio while gazing at the stars.
In Kanab, we also spent one night at the Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile. This is a unique accommodation option that’s pet-friendly, and caters to vegans.
You can bring your own pet or if you don’t have one, you can arrange to have a “pet sleepover” with a dog, cat, or rabbit from the nearby Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (more on this below).
There are certain age restrictions that apply when it comes to hosting a pet sleepover (minimum age is six), and they’re strict on pet pick-up times. We unfortunately miscalculated the time it’d take to hike a trail that day, and missed our pick-up time, much to the kids’ dismay.
Normally, to be eligible for a sleepover, you have to complete a volunteer shift at the sanctuary; however, this is waived if you are staying at the property.
The hotel is a nice place to stay whether you have a pet or not. The rooms are spacious and clean. A simple vegan continental breakfast is included in the room rate.
There’s a dog park in the back of the property, as well as a firepit. You’ll also find s’mores kits for sale in their café with roasting sticks that you can borrow, which saved the day after missing our pet sleepover!
What To See and Do in Kanab
There are many fun attractions for the kids, all within a 15- to 45-minute drive. Here are some noteworthy ones that I’d recommend.
Belly of the Dragon is a short hike that goes through a human-made tunnel, with part of it created by the flow and drainage of water from the canyons.
It’s uniquely shaped to resemble its namesake exactly. Located right off Highway 89, it’s very convenient to access.
Sand Caves are human-made caves created during the times of sand mining. They’re easily accessible off Highway 89. You’ll want to park at the turn-off for Best Friends Sanctuary; there’s a big sign, so you can’t miss it.
From here, you’ll take a short half-kilometre hike northwest through some shrubs. There’s not one single path but rather just take any path as long as you are following the sandstone wall. Keep walking until you find an area that’s flat enough to start your 20-foot upward climb.
The sandstone provides good grip, so going up isn’t an issue, but for the return trip, we shuffled down on our bottoms at some of the steeper parts.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a state park that offers a unique landscape for kids to explore the dunes. You can rent toboggans and sandboards from the visitor centre for $25 (USD) each.
It’s fun, but be prepared to get sand in your face, shoes, and everywhere. Although the dunes aren’t far from the parking lot, walking through sand is a lot harder than it looks, so save enough energy for the trek back.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is America’s largest home for homeless animals, from small critters, to cats and dogs, and all the way up to larger farm animals, and it’s absolutely worth a visit.
You can do a self-guided tour using your phone, but I think it’s better to take one of several in-person guided tours where they take you to different parts of the sanctuary and you have a chance to interact with some of the animals in a small group setting.
If your kids are animal lovers, then you may want to sign them up for a volunteer half-day experience, during which you assist in caring for the animals. There are age restrictions, and most kids will require adult accompaniment. Sign up online at least two–three months prior for the tours and volunteer experiences, as they do book up.
Dinosaur Tracks Trail is a short but steep climb to the top of a ridge to see about a dozen 185-million-year-old fossilized tracks created by the three-toed carnivorous Grallator dinosaur, which is similar in appearance to a raptor. Some of the footprints are hard to make out, but there are a few that are quite well preserved.
Getting to the ridge from Highway 89 is a bit confusing, as the first part of the trail isn’t well-marked. Once you get to the cliff, the signage improves. To keep safe, beware of loose rocks as you climb.
Toadstool Hoodoos Trail is a short 3km round-trip trail that takes you to see rock formations created when an erosion-resistant rock is left on top of a more easily eroded rock underneath, creating the appearance of a toadstool.
It’s not the most exciting trail to hike and there’s only a few toadstools, but it’s worth seeing if you’ve never seen one before, and the kids thought they were cool.
The Nautilus is another natural geographical formation that is an easy 1.5km hike round-trip. We actually didn’t have a chance to visit this one, but this short hike ends at a white twisted rock formation that resembles that of a nautilus, the spiral shell of a mollusk.
There are many ways to explore the Kanab area. Several tour companies in the area offer hiking, ATV, and rappelling tours.
We did a half-day canyoneering tour with Kanab Tour Company and had a fun time. They weren’t the cheapest company to go with, but they were the only company that still had availability as we booked only a day before, and they provide two guides per tour, which not all companies do.
Our guides were awesome, and took us to a slot canyon where we rappelled down six or seven times. We felt very safe in their hands.
The minimum age for this tour is five years old. Another company did take kids as young as four, but to be honest, I would recommend waiting until they’re a bit older, as there is a bit of hiking involved to and from the slot canyons.
If you have time to visit the town of Kanab itself, you could embark on the family-friendly Kanab Treasure Quest, a hunt in downtown Kanab for tokens as you learn about the town’s historical significance.
From Kanab, we also did a day-trip down south to the Grand Canyon North Rim. The drive takes about 1.5 hours one way.
Traditionally, the North Rim is seen as the most difficult to access when visiting other parts of the Grand Canyon. Coming from Kanab, however, is actually one of the most convenient ways to see it.
Grand Canyon National Park partially closes down in the fall, but this doesn’t mean you can’t visit. It just means that certain amenities like their general store, lodge, and visitor’s centre may be closed.
If you visit the Grand Canyon, a couple of noteworthy things to do at North Rim are Bright Angel Point, which is an easy 0.8km round-trip trail that has some open cliff ledges, and Cape Royal Road, which is a scenic drive offering viewpoints along the way.
From Kanab, we drove east to our destination of Page, Arizona. Accommodation options here are plentiful as well, ranging from hotels to glamping experiences.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place Page / Lake Powell, and opted to redeem 12,000 World of Hyatt points in lieu of paying the cash rate of $250 (USD) a night.
The room was spacious for our family of five, with two queen beds and a pull-out sofa bed, plus there was a complimentary breakfast for all guests in the morning.
What to See and Do
After our morning rappelling tour in Kanab, we drove an hour to Page, Arizona, and did a two-and-a-half hour kayak tour of Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon with Lake Powell Paddleboards and Kayaks.
The company provides double kayaks so an adult and child can paddle as a team. If you have an odd number in your family like us, one person will have to take a single kayak.
The company doesn’t recommend that children under 12 kayak on their own. There’s a portion through Lake Powell which can be a bit rough, with heavy boating traffic.
If this is a concern for you, the morning tour is best, as the traffic is lower.
Once you get into the canyon, you can relax. The water is still and quiet, and you can just take in the white cliff landscape that surrounds you.
I was pretty tired at the end of the 2.5 hours, so I was proud of my 12-year-old son who paddled through it all.
You can also opt to rent kayaks and do a self-guided tour, but with this option, you’ll have to transport the kayaks from their shop to the launch site, which is a 10- to 15-minute drive away, on your own. Given this, we chose to pay a bit extra and did the tour.
That evening, we headed out to Horseshoe Bend to watch the sunset. For this activity, make sure to arrive at least 15–20 minutes before sunset.
It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the attraction, but you’ll want to catch the lighting from the setting sun, which gives a warm but vibrant glow.
The next morning, we set out on a tour to visit Upper Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a system of slot canyons formed over many years from water running through the sandstone creating narrow passages by erosion. The process continues even today, so the edges and shape of the walls are forever changing.
There’s an Upper and a Lower Antelope Canyon. From what I’ve read, both are gorgeous.
Upper Canyon is more popular because it is wider at the bottom and easier to walk through. Most of the photos you see online with the light beams shining through are of Upper Canyon.
Lower Canyon is a more difficult hike and also takes longer to walk through because it is narrow at the bottom and requires going down several flights of stairs to reach it. You also don’t get those light beam photos. Some people will visit both, but we didn’t have enough time.
The best time to go to the Upper Canyon for optimal lighting is between 11am and 1pm in the summer months. If you’re travelling there in the fall, go earlier, between 9 and 11am.
Booking a tour is mandatory for both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, as the land is owned by Navajo Parks and Recreation, which only allows authorized tour companies to bring visitors. The best tour times sell out early, so book at least two–three months in advance.
You’ll want to book directly with a local company, as third-party companies like Viator or GetYourGuide significantly mark up the ticket price. A ticket should only cost $80–$100 (USD) plus taxes, including the $8 (USD) Navajo Park fee.
The tour companies are strict on the items you can and can’t bring because of vandalism issues in the past. You’re allowed to bring your phone or camera, bottled water, and a clear bag if needed, but no large bags are allowed in the park.
Our weeklong family trip to Utah and Arizona was action-packed, and we still couldn’t see all that southern Utah had to offer. The unique natural geological formations drew a sense of awe from all my kids as they hiked, climbed, and explored the landscape.
Going to Utah has put the American National Parks on my radar, and I now have several more on my bucket list to visit.
My family also loved the different accommodations we got to try out in the area, so if you can, avoid booking a traditional hotel room when you venture into this part of the world.
If you don’t already have one, consider getting a credit card with a fixed cash redemption, like the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card, to offset your accommodation costs.